This series is aimed at discussing the impact that wrestlers have left on the business, regardless of their personal achievements. The impact I am aiming to discuss is the way they have improved the product or careers of other superstars.
Due to my age and when I started to follow the WWF/WWE, I am solely focusing this series on individuals whose careers date from around 1997 onwards and, more specifically, on less active or retired wrestlers.
The Game, The Cerebral Assassin, Triple H. Arguably one of the most decorated superstars in WWE history, he has been constant within the company for over 15 years. The longevity of his career may be shadowed by colleagues such as The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, however the fact the HHH is still wrestling is a testament to his dedication to the industry and company.
He has recovered from two career-threatening injuries, and though he is a part-time wrestler these days, he still has a great ability to wrestle a stand-out match.
He remains one of those characters who is an all-round talent, though perhaps not exceptional in any particular area. Whilst his matches are always great to watch, he has never had a legendary 5* match. His promo work is solid and stands on its own merits, yet he will never be considered amongst The Rock, Stone Cold and Jake "The Snake" Roberts' of the industry. His technique is fantastic, yet he'd never be featured in a top 10 Technical Wrestlers list. What has helped sustain and drive Triple H's career this long is simple: his work ethic.
He has been a cornerstone of the WWE since his days in DX. He wasn't immediately thrust into the spotlight, yet he was heavily featured in the mid-card, and eventually in main event scene. One of the leading lights of the Attitude Era, alongside The Undertaker, Stone Cold, The Rock and Mankind, Triple H's role within DX helped to usher in a golden age in the WWE, that many older fans yearn for again.
He has often been criticised for his backstage sway, especially because of his marriage into the McMahon family which gave him an unprecedented set of World title runs during the mid to late 2000s. He did however bear the burden of carrying the company through a transitional period as a member of Evolution, and for his misgivings, he has remained a thoroughly professional figure within the company.
In 2010, Sheamus was on the back burner. He had been pushed way too early, becoming a World Champion within a matter of a few months after joining the WWE, and his title reign didn't really have any credibility due to a lack of the WWE fans not being invested enough in his character.
So at the Elimination Chamber PPV, the creative team planted the seeds for Sheamus and HHH to have a brief but important feud, to help prop Sheamus' career back up. Their feud really only lasted two months, as Sheamus "injured" HHH at Extreme Rules, and he would not return until the build-up to Wrestlemania the following year.
In their brief feud, Sheamus lost to HHH at Wrestlemania and defeated him at Extreme Rules. Being on the bill at Wrestlemania against a star of HHH's calibre was a big enough push in itself, and whilst many may argue that Sheamus should have won to be put over, the match was decent. Plus, by effectively putting HHH on the injured list at Extreme Rules, Sheamus was catapulted on a monster-heel type run.
Though, upon his return, HHH completely buried Sheamus within the space of five minutes, Sheamus by this stage was a much more credible and dominant character on the roster. I would argue that the angle was done simply to lay rest to the feud, which would distract from the build-up of Taker-HHH, and was a necessary step.
Sheamus is currently on a face run, quickly becoming one of the top five faces in the company. I would strongly argue that he is being moulded into a HHH replacement, as his physique, technique and style are incredibly similar to The Cerebral assassin era of HHH's career, and Triple H is likely to be retiring within the next couple of years, at least as a wrestler. Though Cena and others have put him over, HHH has certainly had a hand in Sheamus becoming an established talent on the roster.
Batista's WWE career may have almost been over before it began when he was the assistant to D'Von's pastor character on Smackdown. As Deacon Batista, his look as always fit the bill, but he would never have got anywhere. So when he was transferred to RAW, he soon became a member of Evolution.
Whilst it was due to Ric Flair that Batista became a member of the stable, Triple H certainly had more of an influence over Batista's style and presentation, perhaps due to their similar statures. Batista was certainly the lesser member of Evolution for a long period, in part due to an injury that prevented him from competing for several months, taking him off screen. The fact that Orton was the first of the two to receive a World Championship demonstrates the amount of effort that creative put into pushing Orton over Batista.
However Orton's initial WHC reign can often be regarded as premature, given his lack of experience in the company, and having not had any serious or memorable feuds at that stage of his career. Batista, on the other hand, was gaining momentum and credibility following a tag-team title reign with Ric Flair, however he suffered a long-term injury that kept him off our screens for several months. His return saw him make a big impact, by taking out Goldberg.
At Survivor Series in 2003 he again made an impact by helping to screw Stone Cold out of being a co-GM, and carried on gaining momentum towards the WHC scene. He slowly became a fan favourite, and there were indications that he was going to exit Evolution and feud with HHH. This became more apparent in the run up to Royal Rumble 2005, which Batista won.
At WM21, he was set to face HHH in the first of a series of matches that would define The Animal Batista. HHH lost at WM21 dropping the WHC to Batista. The following two PPV's featured HHH vs Batista rematches, and both times HHH lost to Batista. Given the length that HHH had previously held the WHC, this series of wins was unprecedented, and helped Batista to solidify himself as one of the top main event wrestlers in the company.
Batista has since retired from the WWE following additional World title reigns, a great match against the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, and an intense and heated feud against Cena. He may never be viewed as one of the best in the industry, but it was largely down to HHH that he had a successful career.
Similarly as with Batista, Randy Orton was a member of Evolution who has catapulted his career thanks to HHH. Whilst with both Batista and Orton, I would always state Flair's influence on their characters; I believe that due to his position on the roster at the time, their rub off from being HHH's apprentices was the greater cause for success on both of their careers.
Orton's career has fluctuated throughout the decade due to erratic backstage behaviour, injuries and poor story lines. He is however currently the number 2 man in the brand, and this stems from his alliance and feuds with HHH. In 2004, he became the youngest WHC in the history of the WWE, whilst being a member of Evolution. This obviously didn't work for HHH, who wanted to remain the top guy in the company and Evolution. Therefore he worked with Batista and Flair to expel Orton from Evolution, in turn feuding and burying Orton's winning ways, and slowing down the Legend Killer.
This in turn led to a demise for Orton which lasted a couple of years, relegating him to the mid-card where he had several less than memorable feuds. He got one more shot at HHH a few years after, in one of the most intense and deeply personal feuds that we've witnessed post-Attitude-Era. It started with an attack on Shane and Stephanie McMahon. The WWE creative then broke kayfabe, finally acknowledging the marriage between HHH and Stephanie, by using the attack as an angle that led into their feud.
In this feud, Orton was made to look relentless and vicious, and strong threat to HHH. And the impressive aspect of this feud was the series of wins that Orton had over HHH. The wins put Orton over as one of the top superstars in the company, and he has built on this to become the number 2 guy in the company. The only shame with this feud is the lacklustre DX vs Legacy aspect that didn't get over with the audience, and made it feel like it lost momentum rather than finishing on a high.
In 1998, we witnessed a feud that whilst not revolutionary in comparison to some of the greatest in the history of pro-wrestling, certainly made an impact on the business. The Rock vs Triple H. I've previously spoken about the feud in my article in the series about The Rock. I can't oversell this feud because it was the launchpad for two of the biggest WWE stars of the last 20 years.
Triple H just excelled against the man who I would argue to be his greatest opponent. They brought out the best of each other as two young and rising superstars, and their matches and the quality of their feud caught the attention of the fans, and they each respectively rose through the ranks of the roster rapidly. The Rock will likely go down as the more popular superstar, however I personally believe that HHH is the better wrestler.
Their subsequent matches over the World titles were not necessarily classics in the league of Taker-HBK, Hart-Stone Cold and Flair-Steamboat, yet they carried the company in a period when both The Undertaker and Stone Cold were off screen for long periods. This often is overlooked because The Rock was 2nd to Stone Cold, and HHH was not far behind, but it was a big risk, even with the additional help of Mick Foley and The Big Show. In the current product, the weakness of the mid-card would likely prove to be critical if Cena and Orton somehow managed to both be injured and off screen at the same time for even a month.
I won't go into too much detail because I've previously stated this feud in The Rock article, but Triple H certainly played his role in helping to establish The Great One.
In 1999, Chris Benoit, one of the most talented wrestlers of his generation jumped a sinking ship to join the WWE. It was an exciting point in the company, because of the influx of several future hall of fame superstars who added so much depth to the mid card. The likes of Benoit, Angle, Jericho, Eddie, Malenko and Perry Saturn were capable of performing excellent matches, and due to the nature of their styles and background on the global wrestling circuit, they brought an attractive form of wrestling to the company that had rarely been seen since Bret Hart had left the company.
Though the Attitude Era was without a doubt the high point of the WWE over the last 25 years, many of the matches were arguably less technical than from earlier era's. Triple H was one of the few WWE superstars whose technical background could at least contend with the likes of Benoit and co, and he was eventually used to push Benoit into the main event scene and put him on top at Wrestlemania 20.
Benoit climbed through the ranks in the WWE steadily, working his way through some excellent feuds revolving around the Intercontinental and Tag-Team titles. In 2001 whilst teaming with Chris Jericho, Benoit first came into a feud with Triple H over the tag-team titles that HHH and Stone Cold held. This feud began following the fallout from Wrestlemania 17, and was a big leap for both Jericho and Benoit as they were facing a dominant pairing who had recently put The Rock on the out-of-action list. The feud was quickly dissolved due to HHH's quad injury that took almost a year to rehabilitiate.
In 2004 though, Benoit was on the receiving end of being screwed out of a title shot against Brock Lesnar, who was being managed by Paul Heyman. In hope that he wouldn't succeed, Benoit was purposefully drafted in at Number 1 in the Royal Rumble. In a rare feat that he shares with HBK, Benoit won the Royal Rumble and earned himself a Wrestlemania title shot against a champion of his choosing. He chose Triple H.
The storyline that followed was intriguing as HBK was determined to face HHH at Wrestlemania, continuing their bitter rivalry. Benoit was given the time and space during the build-up to Wrestlemania, to prove to the fans and company that he could hang with the likes of HHH and HBK, earning a ton of admiration and respect from literally every fan of the company. The build-up was great, and each wrestler looked strong.
The main event was a spectacle. The quality of this match is often understated, but that night, three of the finest WWE talents of all time wrestled arguably the greatest triple-threat match in the history of the company. Their chemistry was fantastic, and their respective styles complemented each other. The real asset that is frequently overlooked in this match is the individual ability of each wrestler to sell and create a story in the ring. When the bell rang, Benoit claimed the biggest prize in the industry, and we were treated to the celebration between Eddie and Benoit. The title that he had worked almost 20 years to achieve. And it was HHH who was willing to drop his prized possession to Benoit on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Jericho's impact on the WWE may be underestimated because of the big names icons of the Attitude Era, but I would argue that many modern day wrestlers are more Chris Jericho than The Rock or Stone Cold. CM Punk for one is arguably the next generations Y2J, whilst John Morrison and Dolph Ziggler are similarly rounded performers in the ring, though their mic skills are clearly lacking.
In 2000, following losing the Intercontinental Championship to Eddie Guerrero, Jericho was given a title shot on RAW against HHH. Though this was part of a larger storyline, the shock upset win, though not officially recognised was likely used to test the waters of how Jericho would be received as a World Champion. The pop from that pin fall is still one of the loudest I've ever heard, and the WWE creative heard it loud and clear.
Jericho's feud with HHH involved the remains of DX, as well as Stephanie McMahon, and allowed Jericho to truly demonstrate his promo chops. He was turned into a serious contender for the championship, and HHH was made to look likely to lose the title against him. The feud also pushed the face characteristics of Jericho, which the fans really responded to. The final match of the feud was an epic Last Man Standing match that epitomised the anti-hero face and completely ruthless heel that they both portrayed. Though Jericho lost the match, this feud was his springboard into the main event scene.
Within the following year, perhaps due to HHH's absense, Jericho was heavily pushed during the Invasion storyline. His push culminated with him winning the Undisputed Championship, after defeating both The Rock and Stone Cold on the same night. I would never suggest that HHH made Chris Jericho in the WWE, however I would strongly link their feuds to Jericho's establishment as a main event wrestler, as well as the use of HHH as a rival to test the fans reaction to Jericho overall.
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